Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Judith (1887)

Charles Landelle: Judith

Judith by Charles Landelle, one of the most successful French artists of his age, was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1887. It is uncertain when the painting entered the Russell-Cotes collection. However, as an old photograph testifies, Sir Merton Russell-Cotes must have held the work in high esteem as he hung it in a prominent position in the entrance hall to his home East Cliff Hall. In keeping with Russell-Cotes' taste, this exotic painting's subject aptly combines two meanings. While Judith was widely regarded as a symbol of womanly virtue, from the Renaissance (a period Landelle was particularly interested in) Judith also came to be regarded as an allegory of man's misfortunes at the hands of scheming woman. In this painting, as an early curator of the museum describes her: Judith is represented as a magnificent woman standing like a pillar, fierce as a panther; with eyes dark and penetrating, beautiful yet cruel in expression. Her story is drawn from the Old Testament apocryphal book, Judith, in which she is described as rich Jewish widow, who in an act of selfless patriotism saved her city of Bethulia, which was under siege by the Assyrian army. By posing as a turn-coat, dressed so as to catch the eye of any man, Judith gained the confidence of the enemy General Holofernes, who after a banquet in her honor planned to seduce her. However, being overcome by alcohol he collapsed on his bed, vulnerable to his fate. Landelle represents Judith drawing back the bed's curtain and clasping the sword with which she smote him twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head. [VADS]

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